Note ban frontlines: Onion rates halve, farmers have no cash, can’t go cashless

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Pimpalgaon/Lasalgaon, Nashik (Maharashtra): Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be happy with 26-year-old Deepak Patil, an onion farmer from the village of Valwadi in Malegaon Taluka, about 300 km north of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. Patil, dressed in a grey jacket, over his white shirt and jeans, said he has a bank account, a cell phone, and receives payment for his onion produce in cheque.

But Patil, who sells his produce in Pimpalgaon, a market in India’s onion heartland, Maharashtra–producing a third of all onions in the country–is not happy with demonetisation, or notebandi as it is colloquially called, and does not believe he can go cashless.

Related Story: Govt’s national lucky draw: Making digital payments can land you a prize of Rs 1 crore

After November 9, 2016, when notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000–86% by value of Indian currency in circulation–were declared invalid, the government pushed for cashless transactions and digital payments. Patil–with access to banking and a cell phone–could, in theory, move to cashless transactions, but in reality there is no Internet access where he lives, the closest ATM is at least 25 km away, the closest nationalised bank 15 km away, and the government has currently placed restrictions on the district cooperative bank that hosts his account.

Nashik district, which contains Lasalgaon and Pimpalgaon, two of India’s busiest onion markets, contributes 10.4% of Maharashtra’s gross state domestic product, the highest of any agricultural district in the state, according to this 2014 Economic Survey report.
Patil’s trials with the banking system, and the effect of demonetisation on the rural economy of Nashik, show how 800 million Indians, who depend on the rural economy, have been affected by the ban on notes over the last 35 days.

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